The Havre North Stars American Legion baseball club’s quest to reach the 2012 Class A state tournament took a big step in the right direction on Thursday morning in Medicine Hat.
Actually, it was one big walk in the right direction.
The North Stars loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 7-7 tie with Lethbridge, then saw the Miners walk Chris Vukasin, allowing Spencer Ross to trot home with the game-winning run in Thursday’s opening round of the 2012 Northern A District Tournament in Medicine Hat.
The 8-7 win over Lethbridge moved the North Stars into today’s winner’s bracket semifinal where they’ll take on top-seeded Fort MacLeod at 3 p.m. The winner of today’s game will have inside track to reach Sunday’s championship tilt, where only one coveted state tournament berth is available.
However, Havre’s pitching staff took a bit of blow in Thursday’s win over the Miners. Justin Jensen, who was almost unstoppable at the plate, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs, also pitched a solid six innings for the North Stars, but then gave way to Brandon Smith, who pitched three shutout innings to pick up the victory. Potentially, Smith could start today against the powerful Royals, but then would only be allowed one more appearance on the mound the rest of the tournament, regardless of how many innings he works against Fort MacLeod.
Never-the-less, in order to be in today’s semifinal game, Havre had to do what was necessary to beat the Miners, who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Jensen settled in and held the Miners scoreless the next two innings, and that’s when Havre’s bats exploded for six runs in the fourth inning. Gareth Bernard, Ross, Tyrell Pierce and Chris Vukasin all singled in the inning and Jensen smashed his first of two doubles to drive in two runs. Mark Vukasin also singled to drive in two more as Havre took a commanding 6-2 lead.
But the Miners have some pop too and overall the two squads changed leads several more times the rest of the way. But in the ninth, with the game knotted up, David Denny and Pierce singled back-to-back and while Ross reached third after leading off with a walk. Then, Chris Vukasin’s patient at bat drew another walk which scored the winning run and moved Havre into today’s matchup with the Royals.
On the mound, Jensen went six full innings striking out four and giving up 12 hits. Smith not only held the Miners scoreless for the three innings, but he allowed just three hits and only four total base runners.
Offensively, the North Stars totaled 13 hits off of Lethbridge’s Derek Strate, who pitched all nine innings. Jensen was a monster with three RBIs and three runs scored, while Mark Vukasin and Chris Vukasin each drove in a pair. Pierce also had a big day going 3-for-5 at the dish and scoring twice.
Now, the North Stars will get set to take on the Royals, who crushed the No. 8 seed Great Falls Stallions Thursday afternoon. Havre and Fort MacLeod split four regular season games this summer. The winner of today’s game will advance to the winner’s bracket unbeaten game on Friday evening, while the loser will fall into a 9 a.m. loser-out game on Saturday at 9 a.m.
The 2012 Northern District Tournament runs through Sunday afternoon at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat.
North Stars 8, Lethbridge 7
Lethbridge 020 005 000 – 7 15 1
Havre 000 600 011 – 8 13 2
WP – Brandon Smith, LP – D. Strate
Lethbridge – D. Johnston 3-5, T. Shirakawa 1-5, A. Hulcak 1-5, N. Tetzlaff 2-4, L. Boulassa 1-5, M. pearce 2-3, K. Hurt 2-5, G. Burton 2-4, D. Houghton 1-3.
2B – Johnston, Hurt.
Havre – Justin Jensen 4-5 (3 RBI), Thurman Holdsclaw 0-5, Brandon Smith 0-3, Mark Vukasin 1-5 (2 RBI), Gareth Bernard 1-5, Spencer Ross 1-5 (RBI), David Denny 1-4 (RBI), Tyrell Pierce 3-5, Chris Vukasin 2-4 (2 RBI).
2B – Jensen 2, Bernard.